A petition lodged with Parliament to allow parents to take children out of school during term time has attracted 93,573 signatures, with thousands of Norfolk and Suffolk parents signing up.
The present rules, introduced in 2013, mean that parents must file an application with their child’s headteacher in advance if they wish to go on holiday during term time. The headteacher makes the decision on whether the absence will be approved, with guidelines allowing holidays to be signed off under exceptional circumstances.
Parents who don’t follow the rules can be fined by their local council. The penalty of £60 will rise to £120 if it is not paid within 21 days and parents can be prosecuted if the fine is still outstanding after 28 days.
At the time of writing, in Matt Hancock’s West Suffolk constituency there had been 306 signatures, 232 in Jo Churchill’s Bury St Edmunds constituency, 216 in Liz Truss’ South West Norfolk area, 169 in James Cartlidge’s South Suffolk, 236 signatures in Ipswich, 144 in Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, 139 in Suffolk Coastal, 300 in Waveney, 264 in Great Yarmouth, 179 in South Norfolk, 227 in Broadland, 204 in Norwich North, 139 in Norwich South, 198 in Mid Norfolk, 140 in North Norfolk and 135 signatures in Sir Henry Bellingham.
The Government is yet to respond to the petition, but commits to responding to all petitions that receive more than 10,000 signatures. At 100,000 signatures, the petition will be considered for debate in parliament, meaning that - at the time of writing - the petition is less than 7,000 signatures away from being considered for debate by MPs.
The petition was created by a Mr Dave Hedley, whose family has run foul of the rules: “Myself and my wife received a fine for our two eldest children (two fines each parent) for taking our children on holiday for 5 days in term time which was the only week free from surgery and radiotherapy.
“This apparently is not an exceptional circumstance. The council quote is S.444 A or 1 of the Education act 1996 which in its own term indicates truancy and not a one off family holiday. Councils are too ready to fine and wont (sic) consider exceptional circumstances.”
The school in question apparently knew of the cancer diagnosis which Mr Hedley, from Nottinghamshire, feels should be considered an exceptional circumstance.